At the beginning of the Fall 2011 anime season, I named Last Exile ~Fam, The Silver Wing~ the most under-rated series of the season. I was dismayed at the lack of interest in what seemed like an exciting anime. Now that I’ve finished the series, it’s time to look at whether my first impressions were well-founded.
It’s no secret that animation studio Gonzo has been through some tough times. A few years ago, their success with Strike Witches was the only thing keeping them afloat, but after the animation rights were given to another studio, they had to find something else. Last Exile ~Fam, The Silver Wing~ is a spin-off of Gonzo’s relatively successful Last Exile series with 21 episodes. The plot summary from MAL is described below.
All source of life originates from the Grand Lake.
At this very sacred lake, the battle between the Ades Federation and the Turan Kingdom has just begun. The Ades Federation, armed with massive battleships and its sights set on conquering the world, declares war on the Turan Kingdom. With the Federation’s troops encroaching on their beloved country, Turan now lies on the brink of collapse. As this is happening, the princesses of Turan look on as a small vanship named Vespa cruises above their heads.
What are the motives of Luscinia, the man leading the Ades Federation into the war? And what is the secret behind ‘Exile’?
Perhaps one of the things you should know before watching the series is the background information of the world. Last Exile ~Fam, The Silver Wing~ takes place several centuries into the future. Humans have destroyed the Earth and resorted to building “Exile” immigration ships and “Prester” space colonies. The plan was to live in space until the Earth recovered and people could return. The original Last Exile focused on a war between the nations of Anatoray and Disith on their Prester. In Fam, several references were made to Anatory-Disith, which is now a unified state that has settled back on Earth in present-day Ukraine.
Of course, with any mass exodus, people are bound to be left behind, which was exactly what happened with the Ades Federation. They are the descendents of those who weren’t able to make it into space and were forced to fight for survival on a dead Earth. They built their capital in the only habitable area on the planet, present-day Turkey, near the Mediterranean Sea, which eventually became the Grand Lake. As the Earth restored itself, the Ades Federation began to prosper, but when people started return to Earth on Exile ships and claiming newly habitable areas, conflict arose, which led to the beginning of Last Exile ~Fam, The Silver Wing~.
Perhaps one of the big mistakes made in this series was leaving out most of the background information until near the end. Without this knowledge, it would be hard to grasp the significance of characters’ actions and events. The series makes the assumption that most viewers have seen the original Last Exile, which usually isn’t the case when you’re talking about spin-off series that airs nearly a decade after its predecessor. If it had taken the time at the beginning to explain the world, it would be more enjoyable to viewers who haven’t seen the original Last Exile series and those who have forgotten it.
While the series stars the young pilot Fam Fan Fan and her navigator, Gisey, they actually play a small role in the overall plot. It’s a bit misleading considering Fam’s name is part of the title. They were the main focus of the series for a few episodes, but with recent developments, Princess Millia quickly stole the spotlight as she began playing a larger role in wartime politics. Even then, Millia still seemed to play a minor role as the focus shifted to the actions of nations and commanders rather than the main characters. For a time, I completely forgot about Fam, she was just someone that appeared every now and then to fly around uselessly and make obvious comments. Sidelining your main character(s) is probably not a good idea.
Enough with the bashing though, what did Last Exile ~Fam, The Silver Wing~ do right? For starters, the setting they created was absolutely genius. The post-apocalyptic Earth that falls into anarchy is an over-used setting in many fictional stories. Last Exile Fam takes it beyond that, to an era where Earth is on the road to recovery and different sides are vying for the right to lead humanity into the future. Creating fictional events that are in line with what we know today was also something that impressed me. For example, at today’s increasing rates of consumption of natural resources and pollution, the Earth really will be uninhabitable in a few centuries. The magnetic poles are also expected to invert soon, which is what happened in Last Exile’s historic timeline (and why if you look at a Last Exile map, it’s an upside-down version of the Mediterranean).
Beyond a highly believable setting, the nations that exist in Last Exile and their policies draw parallels with known world history, highlighting the human condition. Some examples of things in Last Exile that can be compared with real life are listed below:
Anatoray-Disith Empire ~ Austro-Hungarian Empire
In both instances, two empires/kingdoms acted as a single entity in foreign affairs and defense, but for the most part remained independent of each other.
Glacies Isolation ~ Chinese Isolation
The circumstances that led to Glacies isolating itself from the rest of the world are different from China in the 15th century, but they both maintained their borders with a superior military and technology.
Turan-Ades Conflict ~ Isreali-Palistinian Conflict
Like the Isreali-Palistinian Conflict, the Turan-Ades Conflict involves the struggle between two groups of people. One was displaced when the other returned to their homeland.
I can’t say I was fond of the character designs, but the animation quality was stunning. The high-flying action of the sky pirates and the battles between large sky fleets was a joy to watch. For an animation studio that many though was on their way out, it’s certainly impressive that they were able to keep up such standards. Likewise, the music also deserves a lot of praise. As with the original Last Exile series, Last Exile Fam’s music is ephemeral and dreamy, but catchy at the same time.
Last Exile ~Fam, The Silver Wing~ certainly isn’t a typical anime series. The lack of focus on the characters and the amount of effort put into creating and presenting this fictional world and events that take place in it makes the series seem more like one of those history documentaries that use actors to re-enact events. It’s perhaps not the best series for anyone who likes their anime characters, but I enjoyed seeing history in the making, even if it was the history of a fictional world.